India on Tuesday commissioned its permanent research base at the North Pole, which will enable scientists to carry out studies on a range of subjects including climate change, in one of the cleanest environments on earth.
The research station -- Himadri -- was inaugurated by Union Minister of Science and Technology Kapil Sibal at Ny-Alesund, on the west coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway.
Situated only 1,200 km from the North Pole, Ny-Alesund is the northernmost international research village, managed by Kings Bay, the Norwegian government-held company that runs the logistics at the research station.
The research station was set up following two expeditions by Indian scientists to Ny-Alesund in the last 11 months.
The maiden expedition to the Arctic was launched in August 2007, under the leadership of Rasik Ravindra, Director of the National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research, Goa. It was followed up by another team of seven scientists led by Professor A K Gwal of Barkatullah University, Bhopal, who spent four weeks in Ny-Alesund in March.
The research base in the North Pole comes three decades after India set up a permanent station at Dakshin Gangotri in Antarctica.
Initially, Himadri would be manned by Indian scientists on a project-to-project basis and later on converted into a round-the-year station, as is the case in Antarctica.
India has access to Svalbard because of a treaty with Norway, which has sovereign rights over the area. India has become the 11th country in the world to have a research station in Ny-Alesund, the others being Norway, Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Japan, South Korea, China, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Two-third of Ny-Alesund, which is spread over 63,000 sq km, is permanently under ice, but the climate is mild in comparison to other areas near the North Pole. The mean temperature in the coldest month of February is minus 14 degrees while in the warmest month of July, it is five degrees Celsius.
Owing to almost zero pollution, Arctic is generally considered by scientists to be better than Antarctica for a wide range of research activities.
India has one operational station in Antarctica -- Maitri -- and is in the process of setting up another later this year. India's first permanent station in Antarctica, Dakshin Gangotri, set up in 1981, today lies buried under the snow.